Over the years, many schools around the world have adopted Singapore’s approach to teaching mathematics. More than 50 countries have either imported our textbooks for sale to the general public, or tried to incorporate aspects of our mathematics curriculum or style of teaching into their own national syllabus.
Besides performing well in Cambridge examinations, Singapore has made its mark on the global education stage by consistently ranking near the top in world education surveys such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), or the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) studies conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
SIngapore’s reputation for consistent academic performance may be part of the reason why educators around the world are drawn to what is termed “Singapore mathematics” and have tried to use our teaching methods to improve the standard of mathematics education in their own school or country.
However, the more important consideration is likely to be our well-researched, pragmatic, and thoughtful manner in which the SIngapore mathematics curriculm has been designed. OECD’s director of education Andreas Schleicher, a mathematician by training, once praised Singapore’s mathematics curriculum, saying “Mathematics in Singapore is not about knowing everything. It’s about thinking like a mathematician.”
The SIngaporean style of teaching mathematics does not rely only on rote learning or repetition to drill problem solving techiques. Besides teaching students to solve problems using the Concrete Pictorial Abstract (CPA), our educators have also developed a “spiral curriculum”, where each topic is revisited periodically, but at a more sophisticated level each time.
Mathematical concepts are introduced to students first using models or pictures, and then by abstract notation (such as plus or equals signs, or the use of variables). There is also a strong emphasis on modelling mathematical problems with visual aids, such as solving problems involving fractions, ratios, and direct and inverse proportion using what we have come to term the “model method” or “box method”.
Dr Kho Tek Hong, one of Singapore’s educators who help pioneer the current approach to teaching mathematics, said that our students are given time to think deeply about the maths and to understand concepts at a relational level. This gives them the opportunity to acquire a rigorous maths foundation upon which to build increasingly complex skills.
Mr Tim Oates, who was in charge of a review of England’s mathematics curriculum, is impressed by the design of Singapore maths. He said: “It embodies the idea of ‘curriculum coherence’, where teaching practice, learning materials and standards all line up coherently.”
It is clear that the SIngapore mathematics curriculum has gained worldwide recognition. The fact that our students regular do well in mathematics compared to their global peers is testament to its success. The development of a good maths curriculum is vital to Singapore – and indeed, to any country – as it enables students to acquire knowledge in the physical and social sciences far more effectively. In terms of equipping students with the foundations needed to master skills from all fields in an increasingly technological society, our Singapore maths curriculum has done a great job.